Our friend loathed monster trucks and saw them as an American hyper-egoistic association with vehicles and a nutty obsession for more and more engine power and size. He thought of monster trucks as the perfect symbols of aggression, senseless destruction, and waste.
A lot of our travel this summer was on the Interstate system. I realize I didn’t enjoy it. The Interstate is no longer a gateway to the great American road adventure; it’s more like the great American road nightmare where games of bravado are played out by aggressive drivers with big rigs that come dangerously close to disaster on a regular basis.
In our commemoration for P.R., we talked about his love for travel and decided that I should take him for a final ride back to Arizona in the green toy monster truck. There were no hard and fast rules about what I was to do with P’s spirit riding along, but a loose suggestion that I might leave him (and the monster truck) in some public place where anyone could pick him up and take him on a continuing journey.
I thought I’d leave it (him) somewhere along Route 66, a road symbolizing the lost optimism of a wide-open American dream; a route marked by a faded joy in scenic adventure-travel, meals in friendly small-town highway café’s, and nostalgia for the history of an open road and open people.
I placed him (the toy monster truck) on the front window dashboard where he accompanied us through many states this summer. I wanted him to enjoy the ever-changing views: mountains, flat plains, rivers, blooming trees, lakes, and deserts.
He noticed, as I did, the many bridges under construction across the land. I’m certain he would have thought that bridges are a good metaphor for connecting opposites, efficient passageways for crossing over barriers and overcoming obstacles.
P was extremely well read, and he liked to refer to Equus, a work by British playwright Peter Schaffer. There are dark and complex psychologies in the backstory of Equus, and in Amadeus, the other famous work by Schaffer. Mostly, I remember watching a film adaptation of the play, and the picture of a young boy riding bareback on a horse remains stuck in my mind. Was the horse blind? Was the child blind? I don’t remember, but I do remember the juxtaposition of tension and freedom.
Planning a stop in Gallup on the last night before arriving home in Arizona, I was alert for a Route 66 sign or another public space where a passerby would pick up the truck and set P free, like a boy on a horse, unhinged, and galloping wild.
In Gallup, after getting set-up for the night, we dropped into the Coal Street Pub for a bite to eat. I placed the toy monster truck on the bar in front of me when a guy across the bar struck up a conversation with us.
“I ride. That’s all I do. I go thousands of miles a month. I love it,” he said.
I asked his bike name. “Chopper,” he said.
Noticing his hat, I asked “Do you ride with the Bandidos?”
“Yep,” he said.
Years ago at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, I learned about the Bandidos when one night, during a driving rain, a group of them pulled into the campground and walked to the main social building where we gathered. At the time, my friends Mark, John, and I were in that building (a large pole barn) talking to the campground owner.
He became visibly nervous when the Bandidos showed up and said, “They’re the worst of the worst.” He let it slip that he had a shotgun next to him under the bar.
Wary, but bonded by a love for motorcycling, I walked over to Chopper and asked if he’d be willing to hear a story about the monster truck and why I carried it. In a flat voice he said, “I like stories.”
I heard myself ask Chopper if he’d take the toy truck and P’s spirit for a ride. “When you are done riding with him, leave him or pass him on,” I said.
He looked at me and nodded. I sensed he understood riding in memory of lost friends.
I left the truck next to Chopper and went back to my seat across the bar. We exchanged a few more comments and then he took a phone call.
“I got to go meet some brothers,” he said.
I watched Chopper walk out the door with the monster truck and said goodbye to P.R. Just like that, P was away on an Iron Horse heading into the wind somewhere on a red road in New Mexico. I have visions now, or hopes, or imaginings, of P.R., Leonard Cohen, Persephone, and Chopper galloping off to adventures unknown.
I hear them, though I do not see them. Somewhere out on Route 66 you may hear them too in a motorcycles loud pipes, or catch the sense of spirits – blind and unhinged – cutting a razor-sharp line between life and death, holding the edge on a circle thinner than desert air in September, where songs and stories turn on the dark circumference of a chopper’s worn treads.
P.R. Part I Persephone was his Roommate
His room was small. It was dark, neat, and sparse, just like him. You’d call it a humble hiding place for a middle-aged man but perfect for self-imposed confinement, or for a monk. His room didn’t travel, at least it didn’t seem to in the normal currents of observation and movement, but he did. He loved travel, and when doing so, dressed simply and neatly, like a monastic on holiday.